Blogs » The Hermitic Life of a Film Festival Programmer - Part 6 (I think)

The Hermitic Life of a Film Festival Programmer - Part 6 (I think)

  • Here's programmers from several different festivals talking about what makes them love or hate the films they program.

    Following courtesy of

    This isn’t a trend but it is something that happened to me this past year which I totally disapprove of. Do not have a contest on your film’s website in which you tell your fans to email me and tell me how great your film is. I don’t make decisions based on 30 e-mails showing support for your film, I make a decision based on your film itself. You shouldn’t have to sell it to me.
    ~Jenn Murphy, New Orleans Film Festival

    Read the Call for Entries information thoroughly, most of the answers to your questions are in there. Also, please please please don’t send us press kits, we have no need for them and they usually end up in the bin headed for recycling. And finally, don’t take it personally. Ok that was 3 things!
    ~Jenn Murphy, New Orleans Film Festival

    A trend that I have noticed in submissions that isn’t necessarily recent, but seems to be getting worse, is filmmakers putting all of their eggs in one basket by submitting to one festival which they consider their top priority festival and then waiting until they hear from that festival before applying anywhere else. For example, many filmmakers make the mistake of waiting until they’ve heard from Sundance about their submission before they will apply to any other festivals under the misguided notion that their film will get into Sundance, land a distributor, and they won’t need any other festivals. The reality is that most films don’t make it into Sundance, most that do don’t land distributors or at least not right away, and many of those films then miss the Spring lineup of festivals, the strongest part of the festival season. Waiting up until the very end of the final deadline or waiting until after the final deadline and then trying to get the festival to bend the rules and still take the submission at that point are good ways to kill a film’s festival run before it begins.
    ~Adam Roffman, Independent Film Festival of Boston

    It is better to send a mostly done rough cut than to wait till the very end of submissions to send a final cut. If things such as the color correction or the soundtrack aren’t quite done yet it is highly unlikely that that would determine whether a film gets into IFFBoston or not. Our programmers are able to look past such minor flaws if there is a note of some sort indicating that that work still is being done and we have had films that we accepted when they were works-in-progress end up winning awards at our festival.
    ~Adam Roffman, Independent Film Festival of Boston

    Don’t include a bunch of press kits or anything other than the movie when submitting. Most of the time everything else goes into the recycling bin – save yourself some money. Be sure to follow the submission directions on Withoutabox – label your movie appropriately – name, tracking number, etc. Please read everything about submitting on Withoutabox – most of the time all of the answers to your questions are listed there.
    ~Paula Martinez, Atlanta Film Festival

    One thing I’ve noticed a lot that I’m not a big fan of is starting the film at the end and then jumping back in time. It can take the suspense out of the rest of the movie because I know where the movie has to end up, and if you put a character in jeopardy I know they have to get to the scene that I’ve already seen. I was trying to come up with a trend that would be positive, but when you watch so many entries anything that you see enough to classify as a trend can become old quickly.
    ~Dan Krovich, Atlanta Film Festival

    I know that making a small-budget independent film is a hard slog… and the people who help you out deserve all the credit in the world. But it just drives me nuts when filmmakers include unnecessarily lengthy credits at the front of a film to make it feel more substantial. I recently sat through a short film where the entire cast of completely unknown actors got big, up-front billing and the filmmaker credited the caterer and the music editor before the actual film even started. Keep your absolutely key people up top (even if it’s only you) and thank all the rest of your minions at the end. Don’t resort to puffery just to make your film seem bigger. Oh, I’m also getting tired of on-screen quotes at the start of “meaningful” documentaries. One more quote from Gandhi, Aristotle or Eleanor Roosevelt and I’m going to gag.
    ~Andrew Rodgers, RiverRun International Film Festival

    I’m going to have to echo some of my fellow programmers here. First off, don’t call us to submit new cuts of your film… unless you really truly made a crap-load of changes. (And even then, it’s got to be really major . . . like turning a 65-minute feature documentary into a 20-minute short. Color corrections, cutting a scene, adding a new song or re-dubbing your voiceovers don’t count.) When we hear a lot from a particular filmmaker during the submission process, we start to think he or she might be too high maintenance for us. Just send us the best film you can by the end of our submission period. Also . . . don’t take rejection personally. We’ve had to turn down friends, filmmakers whose films we’ve shown before, people who have done big favors for us, well-known filmmakers and really-really talented emerging talents . . . all because their film doesn’t fit the complex matrix of films for us in that particular year. Also . . . if you feel compelled to write a really nasty, expletive-laced letter to tell us how stupid we were to pass on your film, expect that we will post it on our bulletin board and laugh at you mercilessly. That said . . . because you’ve taken the time to submit to our Festival, please know that we take the time to seriously consider your film. We make sure that every single submission is seen by at least two people so that one person’s opinion doesn’t sink a film’s chances . . . and many films are reviewed by many others in order to collect a range of viewpoints.
    ~Andrew Rodgers, RiverRun International Film Festival

    Everybody’s doing zombie movies. Yes, I enjoy a good brain-eating. I’m sucking on grey matter right now. That being said, pleeeeeeeeease send in something new, unless you have the zombie film to end all zombie films. Which might be nice.
    ~Gary Anthony Williams, L.A. Comedy Shorts Film Festival

    Cut the fat. I know I’ve personally made that mistake with my own projects. Also, just make sure it’s laugh-out-loud funny. You don’t have to have a huge budget to tell a good story and make everyone laugh. Thirdly, if your film doesn’t make it into LA Comedy Shorts, that doesn’t mean you don’t have the best film ever. It simply means that it wasn’t right for our program. It could also mean we are really stupid or drunk.
    ~Gary Anthony Williams, L.A. Comedy Shorts Film Festival

    Recently, I have seen a surge of filmmakers who are taking new and creative approaches to storytelling in both docs and narratives that is very exciting. Filmmakers are taking chances with the medium and the results are refreshing, especially when my days are filled with screening submissions. Definitely approve!
    ~Joanne Feinberg, Asheville Independent Film Festival

    Multiple replacement copies. Meaning, there are a lot of filmmakers who submit an unfinished rough cut in August and proceed to send me a new copy every month until our final deadline. If you submit early, submit a finished film. If you’re still working on your film and there are 2 months left until our deadline do yourself a favor and hold off to submit the most complete and finished version you can. This is your film, and you shouldn’t undercut it in an effort to save $20 on the submission fee. That said, if you have a new/better/different cut that changes the world you can send in a replacement, just don’t make it a habit! Oh, and if you’re going to make a short film, make it short.
    ~Claudette Godfrey, SXSW

    Don’t take it personally. I think it’s easy for filmmakers to become jaded when they don’t get into the festivals they want to. It’s easy to focus on the rejection letters and channel negative feelings into hating the establishment. Instead, do your research. Submit to festivals that have an audience for your film. Reexamine your edit. There are factors that you can control. When a festival doesn’t play your film it doesn’t necessarily mean that your film is bad or that you’re a bad filmmaker. Programming a film festival is like a giant puzzle and there’s no way to fit in every good film. There are a lot of factors at work and we really accept a very small percentage of the films that submit. Hone your craft. Keep working.
    ~Claudette Godfrey, SXSW

    I love that filmmakers are starting to put all their materials on line. I try to discourage filmmakers from sending me these expensive wasteful glossy paper press kits when my needs are digital files of stills and trailers. We don’t want the filmmaker to bankrupt him or herself submitting to our festival. Submit early, keep the packaging simple (we care about your film – not the well designed art on the cover!), and let your work speak for itself (no lengthy introduction letter needed)!
    ~Anna Feder, Boston Underground Film Festival

    During 2008-2009 I was seeing a lot of shorts where people were getting hit by cars. It was disturbing at first and then just got really old. Also (and my programming friends know how I feel about this one): the Los Angeles downtown skyline. At night, at dawn, for the opening shot, or to close out the film…. I’m in Texas and can tell by your other locations that you’re in L.A. Got it. Next.
    ~Sarah Harris, Dallas International Film Festival

    Short films with long running times can be problematic for us as it is hard to make time for them, but mostly we’re open to seeing whatever filmmakers are interested in sharing. Obviously it may go without saying at this point, but your packaging/personal letter, etc make no difference to us at all, so if you’re looking to save money/time, just make a professional looking label on your DVD and don’t worry about the rest of it. The movie will tell us all we need to know.
    ~Tom Hall, Sarasota Film Festival, Newport International Film Festival